An excerpt from The Taker

Ackerman felt his mutilations would fall, on the spectrum of horrific disfigurement, somewhere between the burns of Freddy Krueger and the wartime injuries inflicted upon Rambo. Thankfully, his father had been strategic with the abuse, in order to avoid detection. The scars were all concealable by a long-sleeved shirt, but of course, he wanted them to see the evidence of the crucible that was his life.

 

The young and rather beautiful Liana couldn’t seem to pry her eyes from his torso. His body didn’t contain an ounce of fat, but he knew that it wasn’t his physique drawing her attention. He could see her analyzing the scars for a method behind the madness. He made a mental note to ask her later about what conclusions she had reached.

 

Captain Yazzie said, “Frankenstein. Frank, that’s cute. I can see from that little roadmap of pain you call an epidermis that torture isn’t going to have much effect on you. How about I talk and you let me know if I’m on the right track?”

 

Ackerman fought to keep his concentration on the Tribal Police captain and the situation at hand, but he could already feel the breath on the back of his neck, the shadow at his back. Over his shoulder, he heard his father say, “I think we should kill every one of these people and be done with it. This is boring me to tears.”

 

Ackerman’s father—the serial killer known as Thomas White—walked around to the front of the cell and stood in front of the police captain. Through it all, Ackerman kept his face as stone. Internally, he wanted to scream and break something. For the past few months, he had been hearing the voice of his father in his head, but up until recently, the voice had only spoken phrases that had been lifted from actual memories. But during a recent confrontation with a serial killer who called himself the Gladiator, the voice in his head had begun to speak as if it had a mind of its own.

 

And then, in the hospital following the Gladiator ordeal, Thomas White had appeared in the flesh. Or at least Ackerman perceived him that way. The hallucination had been so vivid that he had called for the nurse and asked her if she could also see the mad doctor in the three piece suit. She had looked at him as if his tongue had crawled out of his mouth like a large pink leech. The real doctor she summoned had wanted to run more tests on him, but he had better things to do and had convinced the doctor that he would handle the matter with his primary care physician.

 

Now, with Maggie missing and possibly dead and him back in another cage, he wondered if he should have heeded the doctor’s advice.

 

Thomas White said, “It feels so good to have the band back together again, doesn’t it, Junior?”

 

Behind his father, the police captain said, “Are you still with me, kid? If I get the story right, will you help me fill in the blanks?”

 

Ackerman said, “I can’t stop you from talking just yet, but by that same token, you can’t keep me from ignoring you.”

 

The imaginary Thomas White laughed. “That’s the spirit, Junior. Try to outthink this. Make a game out of it, just like you always did with everything, in order to deal with the pain. But that was before the gifts I gave you. I helped you to transcend pain and master fear.”

 

Captain Yazzie said, “You were right. Mr. Canyon did call me. But that would be the sensible thing for a man to do when a crazy person has attacked his ranch.”

 

Ackerman said, “I didn’t attack anyone. I merely analyzed the current situation and applied pressure where it was required.”

 

“Mr. Canyon claims that you set one of his trucks on fire and rolled it into his reserve fuel depot.”

 

Ackerman nodded. “As I said, the proper amount of force for the situation.”

 

“And what situation is that? Why would you feel the need to do anything to John or his property?”

 

“I needed to get his attention.”

Thomas White leaned against the bars, arms crossed, looking bored. He said, “If you wanted to get his attention, you should have followed my advice and dragged his whole family out of the house and started executing them one by one until he told what he’s done with your brother’s concubine.”

Ackerman gritted his teeth and resisted the urge to defend Maggie’s honor. He reminded himself that his father wasn’t actually there. Unless the old man had mastered some form of astral projection.

 

Captain Yazzie said, “You certainly managed to get his attention. I think a better choice would have been to call his office and make an appointment or at the very least knock on his door. That’s usually sufficient in getting someone’s attention.”

 

Ackerman shrugged. “Let’s not split hairs here, captain. Overkill would have been dragging all of them out into the night and chopping off body parts with a chainsaw until Mr. Canyon properly received my message. Your proposed solution, on the other hand, would have been too far down on the other end of the spectrum. I feel my actions were quite proportionate.”

 

“You could have killed a lot of people. He has bunkhouses out there—”

 

“The variables were considered. As they have been considered ten steps ahead of your feeble mind in this instance. Besides, the point is moot as no one was killed in the truck explosion. It was merely a diversion.”

 

“A diversion for what? Why did you need to get Canyon’s attention?”

 

“You haven’t asked me about the blood yet.”

 

“I was working my way up to it.”

 

Thomas White walked around behind Ackerman and placed imaginary hands on real shoulders. Ackerman could have sworn that he could feel actual pressure from his father’s touch. White said, “May I suggest a small edit to your plan here.”

 

Ackerman said, to both the captain and his father, “I’m listening. Get on with it.”

 

The police captain leaned forward with his elbows on his knees and asked, “What did you do with Tobias Canyon and the others with him? Are they dead?”

 

“Consider this, Junior,” Thomas White said. “If you really want to convey the dire nature of these straits, then you should kill these three, pose them like marionettes, and secure yourself back in the cell. Now that would get the attention of this Canyon fellow.”

 

Ackerman said, “No one need die here. Your benefactor, John Canyon, took someone from me. So I took someone from him. Perhaps it’s a bit simplistic. Schoolyard logic, for sure. But I think it holds up. If he returns my friend, then I’ll return his son.”

 

He could imagine the wheels turning behind the dark black glasses covering Yazzie’s eyes. The captain said, “Who’s your friend?”

 

Leaning forward, Ackerman slowly asked, “You can see him too?”

 

“What? See who? Try to stay with me here, kid. You said Canyon took your friend. Who exactly is he supposed to have kidnapped?”

 

“Oh, that makes much more sense. She is a federal agent who went missing while investigating Mr. Canyon. Her name is Maggie Carlisle. Surely you remember her, captain.”

 

“I’m afraid not. Just like I told the FBI agent and BIA agents when they asked. She never came here.”

 

Thomas White was suddenly standing behind Captain Yazzie. Ackerman’s hallucination cocked his balding head and said, “You see that. He’s lying right to your face. Are you going to stand for this kind of malicious disrespect, Junior?”

 

Ackerman said, “That’s interesting, Captain Yazzie. We were able to track her cell phone to this exact location. She made a call while she was here, one of her last before disappearing.”

“She must have stopped by while we were out on a call. None of my officers saw her either. But we can discuss that later, Frank. I’ll help you find your friend. I really will. But right now, I need to know if Tobias and those other boys are okay. Do they need medical attention?”

 

With a roll of his eyes, Ackerman dropped onto the bunk against the back wall and said, “I really wish all of you normals would stop asking me stupid questions. I need you to understand something, captain. When you look into my eyes, you are looking into eyes that have watched countless die. I have felt all pain. I have known all depravity. I have experienced the heights of sadistic ecstasy, and I have endured the pits of hell and the valley of death. Now, you look me in the eyes and answer me one question. Do you know where Maggie Carlisle is right now?”

 

With a small shake of his head, the captain replied, “No, I have no idea.”

 

“Then you’re of no use to me. I have a suggestion. Let’s all sit here quietly until the man who can actually answer my question shows up.”

 

The impetuous Officer Liana said, “And what if Canyon can’t answer your questions either? Or what if your friend is dead? What will you do then, Frank?”

 

Ackerman could tell that her question was genuine. She was asking out of fear of his retaliation, not trying to be facetious. Thomas White—who he could now only hear in his head—said, “That’s a good question, Junior. What will you do if Ms. Maggie is no more? Maybe that will be my opportunity to take your flesh suit for a little spin. Or maybe you’ll merely resort back to your true nature and do what you were born to do. It could be just like old times. Father and son, together again.”

 

As he looked up into the eyes of the frightened young American Indian woman, Ackerman answered honestly, “If Maggie’s dead...then God help us all.”